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Early English Romances in Verse done into Modern English by Edith Rickert: Romances of Love; Oxford University Press, New York, (undated); pp. 106-141, 187-191.
NOW this knight was known to King Arthur and Queen Guinevere as a bold man; and his prowess was famous far and wide in heathendom, and in Spain, France, and Brittany, together with the renown of Perceval and Gawain. He was nephew to the king and queen,2 and wherever he heard tell of adventures, thither he went, 107 until presently he was made a knight of the Round Table, as is shown in the Mappa Mundi.3
He was also greatly given to music, harp and psaltery, and gay gittern,4 and he had always the prize for playing on the rote5 and the lute, and for his sweet singing. Yet was he a lover of sport, and kept greyhounds for hunting the hare and hart and buck and bear, day and knight. Many fair falcons and hawks of noble eyries flocked in his park, sixty together. He would be up ere the dawn to hunt and ride, and every day brought him fresh sport; but always he went first to hear Mass, with good intent. Afterwards, he rode in the forest with horn and hound to bring down the deer, for that was his chief joy. Certes, he had never wished for wife or wench; but had lived always as true as the anchor in a stone.6
He held in his possession a thousand pounds’ worth of land, and of goodly rents a great deal more. In his demesnes were an hundred ploughlands, and fair parks enclosed in hedges, great herds in the plains and a mighty store of tame beasts, high-walled castles with noble halls and chambers, and fair steeds in his stables, both lyard7 and sorrel. And he never heard any cry but that he busked him, and rode anon into the land whence it came.
He loved well alms-deeds, clothed and fed poor men, and was free of his meat; and also he called for gestes, 8 and 108 to the minstrels in his hall gave rich robes, gold and other fee.
Wherever he went in his journeyings from home, they blessed his name and held it in honour; and in every land, so many had he hurt in jousts and tournaments that he won always the prize.
Near him there dwelled an earl, a proud lord that owned seven wide forests and many bowers. He was jealous of the knight for his great prowess, and being himself fierce and stalwart, he rode with a gay rout of henchmen and broke into his best parks and therein made sorry play, and killed the fattest bucks in the field, sixty at a time. Likewise, he fished in Degrevant’s rivers and slew his foresters.
Now all this was unknown to the knights, as I need not tell you, for he was at that time in the Holy Land doing valiant deeds of arms against the heathen. But his steward sent him a letter by a messenger who rode as swiftly as he might ride.
Without tarrying, the knight busked him and rode away from Granada9 as fast as he could; and within a twelve-night he and his men had overpassed the sea and come into his own country.
He went straightway to his manor, and found that fair place all despoiled; his husbandmen that paid rent were harried outright, and the best tenantry in his towns were 109 ruined, and his goodly parks were turned into common, and in an evil state.
He enclosed his parks again, and lent the husbandmen oxen and wains from his own store, and also seed for sowing, and strong draught-horses; and thought to proceed by law and by no other means. Therefore he wrote a letter to the mighty earl, and prayed him to do right or tell him wherefore; and this he sent by a squire that was worth an hundred pounds rent.
Now this squire rode fast towards the palace of pride wherein dwelled the earl, Sir Sere of Cypirs,10 but chanced to meet him with many a knight, busked for hunting in the forest. So stern and stout was that lord, and has so strong a company that the squire feared to abide the first brunt of the meeting. But as soon as they drew near, and their hoses stood front to front, he greeted the earl and his barons with fair words.
Holding the letter by one corner, the squire gave it to the earl, who glanced at it and then spoke his mind: “Wert thou not a messenger, thou shouldst abuy this, right here in the woodland! Only to vex thy proud lord, I will hunt in his forests and his greens,11 and will break open his parks when I like!”
Then said the squire: “Sir, that is not well done. Truly now ye have left him but the one course, as every just man would say, be he knight or squire: here is my 110 glove, whatsoever befall! Sir, so please you, remember you have done ill. I counsel you to amend it by reason, for woes spread ever wide!”
But the earl answered: “I will amend nothing! For all his pride, I count him not worth a cross!” He waxed wroth, and swore mightily that the squire should be a sorry messenger unless he went his way; and this he might not deny, so he took his leave and rode off, as fast as he might, over the broad bent.12
He arrived home at nones,13 and told how he had fared; and the knight asked him what answer had been sent.
“Sir, an he may do as he intends, he will never stint14 his game; and if once he get you into his power, I hold you for lost!”
Then Sir Degrevant sighed and looked up to heaven: “Jesus, save my right, and Mary speed me! I vow to God some of us shall rue it! And he shall not come out well, if I rede aright!”
Anon they geared them with weapons as fast as might be, and knight and squire alike donned strong armour. In a short while, were ten score ready, and with them three hundred archers good at need. Presently they rode into the forest, and there galloped a while ere they pitched their pavilions and rested for the night.
On the other side, the earl purveyed him a host, and 111 came along with many a fierce knight bragging and boasting. Within Degrevant’s boundaries he uncoupled his hounds, and harried all at once his parks and his greens. Thus they crashed through the forest, set harts at bay, and finally dismounted in a glade under a hill. Sixteen harts they had brought down and slain before their chieftain.
Then said the dukes on that land: “Where is now Sir Degrevant? Why comes that giant not to rescue his deer? No peace-charter shall save his proud fat harts. We shall have got a few of them ere we stop! I would he were here! Truly ere he went away, he should repent him of his game and of the proud letter that he sent by his squire!”
Now Sir Degrevant was so near that he overheard, and cried out: “Forward, banners, and trumpets blow!” And his archers stood all ready to shoot.
The earl was pleased, and quickly arrayed him for battle, being nothing afraid of that fierce knight. And now they met in the field, with spear and buckler; and mightily they use their weapons in savage combat. As soon as they came together, they lunged with their lances so that no man in the field might be spared. With their glittering swords they rent rich hauberks on the bent, and shining glaives gleamed against golden shields. They thrust steeds in that stour,15 and goodly knights were hurt through their armour on those heathery16 hills. So fiercely they 112 fought that none wist, save He that rules all, who should have the victory.
The bold knight Degrevant brought many a lord low to the ground, pierced through a jerkin and coat-of-mail, and many he lamed. Many a glittering shield was shattered and many a doughty man died under his rich armour all red with blood. Thus they struggled in that frith,17 and brought many a stout man to his death, these bold fellows while their kinsfolk,18 in wreaking vengeance. Many a mother’s bairn was laid low, and died under his steed. And ever Degrevant burnished bacinets19 bright, and his friends fought fiercely and beat down his foes.
All the earl’s knights that were held for chivalrous and strong in battle, perished at that time. He himself kept aloof, and watched how they fared with shield and lance, and sighed heavily to see the best men that ever he led left as pledges on the field. He himself took to flight with fifty spearmen, being sore wounded.
Sir Degrevant and his men chased them like deer through the fens, and down in the hollows he dang them to death. With sharp steel axes he hacked their bacinets bright; and for many a knight he garred a knell to be rung in the morning. And he was vexed when the battle parted a-two.113
As for the earl, right sorrowfully he sprang to horse and fled away, leaving behind him in the hollow, forty score slain in a heap, with gaping wounds in their backs, lying dead in the ling. But yet Sir Degrevant got him a horse good at need, and pierced many a side with his spear’s dint, and chased the earl hotly for more than eleven miles. Many a man did he repay that before had done him hurt.
At last he came jogging home, and was fain to find none of his folk dead or a jot the worse. In that very place, he kneeled down and thanked God for His mercy; and so they all returned to his fair manor.
Presently knight and squire went to supper, and blithe of heart, danced and revelled all that night.
But the earl came home, disgraced and wounded; and his lady, seeing him lame, swooned away and cried often: “Alas, have ye not parks and chases of your own? What should ye be doing in that place to pay such a price?”
“Dame,” he answered. “I was there, and I rue it! And I take my leave for ever of righting such wrongs!”
On the morrow, Sir Degrevant geared him whenso he would on a Barbary horse,21 and armed at all points, rode 114 with his men to the barbican of the earl’s castle. There he halted and dismounted in lordly wise, and asked, was there any within would render to him and twelve knights three courses of war in that place? He prayed the porter to take his message and bring an answer, and had a promise thereof.
Anon the porter went into the hall and said to the earl: “Here is come to your gate the good knight Sir Degrevant armed upon a steed, and with him are many bold men and stout, in weeds of war and high glittering helmets. He demands jousts of battle, and prays you for an answer; and I must needs be his messenger.”
The earl said hastily: “Here is none ready!” It would seem that this doughty man feared Sir Degrevant.
Then came the countess into the hall, and with her her daughter, who was gentle and slim and lovesome to look upon. She gazed out upon the adventurous man, and said: “Sir knight, ye are a marvel, I plight my word! But if God hath lent you grace to overcome your foes, do not on that account come hither to seek us out, or night or day.”
He answered that noble lady: “Madam, blame not me; ill-fortune is his that fights in the wrong! My parks were all destroyed and my rivers dragged, and I am greatly enangered! While I was fighting in Spain, he made my lands bare, both wood and warren; and he loosed my game. I tell you without fear, he that dealt with me so 115 shall be quit his meed,22 even if I die on the plain! He that slew my foresters shall make good, as soon as I may bring it about!”
Then she spoke wisely from the hall: ‘Ye have already slain good men; I rede that ye accord ere any more die.”
But he answered in haste: “As I walk on the earth, he that did me such villainy shall abide his bargain! Madam, so please you, take it not ill; I am bound to fight my foe! I tell you in truth, it shall not end so lightly! Many a brave man shall die yet ere it be concluded!”
The knight waited in the field with axe and buckler; and the earl’s daughter saw that he was a bold man and burly. He was armed in gold and azure sheen, set with true-loves,23 gay to see. And she was comely clad, that fair maiden, as she walked between two bannerets,24 and was sweet to fold in arms. She turned the knight’s thoughts to love, and he promised his own heart that he would be her servant, prosper as he might.
However that was to be, he took his leave then: “Madam, hold not amiss what I tell you. Greet the earl, your father, and say that we shall never be at one till he have restored my things that he hath taken away. Heretofore he might easily have made his peace with me; but now I defy him to the teeth, for all his great array! I swear that, but for your sake, I should wake him finely 116 ere to-morrow dawned! But for my gentlehood, I scorn to do such robberies as to make affray at the castles of fair ladies; and sith I may no more, I will go to his enclosures and spare no wild beast all this day!”
Anon they rode away into the forest with horn and hounds, to bring down the deer where they lay in the glades. And so he began his sport; his hunting-dogs ran royally, and he had felled sixty bucks ere he ceased. And ere he rested, he had done his worst to the earl, and had hunted through his forests with bold men. He drew his deep ditches, killed his white swans, and got as many great luces25 as he would.
But now him likes no mirth or revel, since for maid Melidore’s26 sake he hath fallen into heavy care.
One day at the hunting, he told his squire how it was, and that he loved a damsel sweet to embrace: “My love is fallen loyally on a lady bright as beryl and crystal-clear. She is wise and prudent; and her lily-face is run with red as the rose on its branch! She is far the fairest of women, in her rich raiment! Once only I came near enough to see her on a wall; but I had liefer she were mine than all the Rhine-gold27 fashioned into florins — so dear hath she grown to me!”
His squire answered: “Let me but know who she is, and on pain of death I assure you, if in any wise I can, I will win that maid to be your wife. And here I swear 117 never to reveal your secret. And while my body may endure, I will fight faithfully with knife or sword, against squire or knight that would be your rival!”
“Her name is Melidore, and she is white as the foam of the sea! My bold fellow would blame me — what good to lie? And yet must I make my vows against all men’s counsel, for my life or death is in her hands! Although she is the earl’s only heir, I would ask nothing of his, neither castle nor town28 — naught save her own sweet self, and we to be friends evermore! How great is my sorrow!
The squire counselled him: “Remember that ye are foes, and let some prudent man go between you in this need. For I dare safely swear that if he took you captive, all England here would speak of your death. It is but folly to love your foe, if ye get only damage and ill-will for your meed. Or again, ladies would say: ‘Might no other woman please you but that proud maiden, Melidore?’ ”
But Sir Degrevant answered: “Thou shalt never say that I am recreant to friend or foe; for thou wouldst hold me mad or else afraid of the earl. Dost thou think I will leave my love so easily? Arm thee well at eventide in iron and steel, for we shall to the castle, our two selves alone. This very night, be it for weal or woe, I will speak with that bright lady!”118
So they mounted two strong coursers, and presently alighted under a lime-tree near a glade. At daybreak, the earl, with his proud knights, busked him on his way out by a postern and into the forest for sport.
Sir Degrevant did not move until the earl had passed the hill, then he said quietly to his squire: “I rede we hasten through that postern and hide until the lady comes.”
He took no further heed, but went in. The porter had been sore afraid had he been at the gate; but he was gone away to sleep. Armed as they were, they ran into an orchard, and there rested behind a rose-bush until the day waxed clear, undern29 and later. Then the chapel-bell began to ring, and the gay damsel made her ready for the service.
She came clad in violet,30 fretted over with white pearls and set with sapphires; and the stuff was of fine pall,31 furred with ermine, and left open for pride. It were hard to count her buttons, all enamelled with azure, topaz, and other gems; and at her side gleamed a ribbon of red gold. Her hair was gathered under a splendid gold crown set with bosses, and she had a frontal32 of Orient pearls that had been sent to her from Cyprus. Her kerchiefs were 119 curious about her sweet gay face; and the amorous knight had great joy when he beheld her.
By the time that Mass was said, the hall was royally arrayed, and the earl had returned and dismounted in his court. The trumpeters summoned to meat, and all the great lords and ladies washed and went to dinner; but afterwards, when the boards were taken up, the ladies arose and returned to the chamber. Only Melidore and her maid went into the orchard, and came anon where lay Sir Degrevant. At once he rose and met her in an alley, and greeted her fair, saying: “Certes, noble lady, may Jesus save us both! I would fain be your servant, and plight troth with you; and had I time, I would speak with you secretly, for indeed all my life is locked up in your grace!”
Now the lady was greatly afraid, and yet she was pleased to see that comely knight in splendid array. She answered anon: “Whether ye be squire or knight, methinks ye do wrong in coming thus armed as if for war, to fright maidens a-walking for pleasure in their arbour. By God and St. James, I know not who ye are, but i’faith, ye are greatly to blame!”
Then the knight kneeled to her: “Madam, so please you, this have I done, and I may not gainsay it. As may God save me from sin, by no other device might get speech with you, day or night! If I tell you my name, I am not at fault if it turn to my undoing; I am Sir 120 Degrevant, an so please ye, I would be your lover, as I am true knight!”
But she cried out: “Traitor, let be! By Him that died on the Cross, my lord himself shall see you hanged on high!”
Then Sir Degrevant laughed as he stood under the bough: “Madam, reproach me as ye will for all the trouble. I had no guilt for the bloodshed above yonder hill, and that will I prove to your liking. As ye are the pink33 of courtesy and prudence, I put my trust in your gentlehood. Why will ye do me to death? An I be slain in this place, ye shall be the cause thereof; and that would ye rue and like full ill!”
But still she cried: “Traitor, ye shall pay for your hardihood in doing me this dishonour! Ye shall be hanged and drawn, for ye have slain our folk; and my father will be right glad to see that sight!”
Then he said: “Sith it may be no better, go fetch all his meiny to fight me; but by my word, ere I stop the gayest of them all shall groan, even if they come forty strong! I promise you, some that are now dancing lightly shall be fey,34 an we fight, for all their great pride!”
The stout man was stirred to wrath, and took his sword from his squire; and the sweet lady durst abide no longer, but fled away to her chamber, and swore that he should be 121 undone. But her maiden doffed her hood, and knelt there: “Madam, on Yule-night, ye did promise me my gift; I ask no more but that yonder knight may sleep by my side.”
Belive35 she was well chidden, but she was not abashed to ask the same thing again. “Damsel, go do as thou wilt! I prithee, leave me to my sleep. Go and make merry thy guest, in the name of all the devils! But, God save me, hadst thou asked for my humblest knave, it had been more to my liking. I swear to thee by God’s grace that if ever he come near me, he will find himself in such a pass as never before, night or day!”
“Madam,” she said, “gramercy for your great kindness!”
Belive a chamber was made ready; and she fetched in the knight secretly, unseen of any, as women are cunning at such work when they like. She prepared for his supper river-birds and many other dainties, with no lack of spices. He sat at his ease in a comely coat-of-mail, and the girl made him good cheer and carved his meat; but for all that was cut, he ate never the more, and when he sighed heavily, the maiden smiled. Soon after he says: “What doth the earl nowadays? Doth he hunt or revel, or how spend his time?”
And she answers: “Sith all his chivalry was killed, he hath never passed out on the plain half a mile. His hurts 122 have so damaged him that he is sorely afeared; and the gates have been aye bolted for dread of your guile!”
“Ere his gates be secure, I shall fright him well! I shall shake him by the beard the next time we meet — save I let be for her sake that I have chosen for my bride! She makes me lie awake in sorrow with wet cheeks! I had liefer she were at peace with me than all his gold! And if once I had that sweet maid in my arms, then, I swear by my hand, never were emperor or king more to his liking!”
She answers: “Methinks your labour is to no purpose, for ye have slain our kindred! So, how may that be? I swear by God’s might, if ever she set eyes upon you again, ye shall be hanged high on a tree! She is sought by dukes and emperors; and it were to her shame to marry you! The Duke of Gerle36 hath sent word to her that he will hold a tournament, and my lord hath agreed to be there. The duke will come a-jousting in great array; but by my counsel, ye will not enter that sport. It is my lord’s intent that if ye go there, ye and all your men shall perish!”
“Damsel, ye have doubtless warned me of this deed through great gentlehood — may God repay you! I swear by St. Luke I shall joust with him till I am rebuffed, however it may be! Now, damsel, in return for your good cheer and my supper, you shall have my squire — look if that he be pay enough. Here I pledge you37 four hundred pounds’ worth of land to marry her as I bid you.”123
When they were handfasted, torches were set a-burning, and Sir Degrevant gave his squire the order of knighthood.
And after he said: “For God’s sake, commend me to my lady and yours, if ye will have my favour to my death’s day. Commend me secretly to her, lest she have but a poor opinion of me. I tell you verily, no emperor or knight shall marry her, for I will prevent him; and I give you my word that since first I saw her I have not slept any night half-an-hour! Pray that gracious lady to be my friend, and for her honour’s sake to send me some help!”
Says the maid: “I take your errand in hand; and though I be banished for it from this place, I shall stop for no fear! Now I will show you how to go in and out of the castle for the speeding of your suit. Between the chamber and the hall there is a moat38 forty feet wide where ye can come in o’ nights secretly and unseen; and ye shall find here your chamber always ready, if I can bring it to pass.”
“Damsel, for God’s sake, show me that place!”
Then the maid went first, and led him to a postern, through which he came to a water-gate, where men from boats victualled the castle with corn. “At ebb of tide, ye shall wade not knee-deep.”
The knight kissed her, and early on the morrow the two men passed that moat and entered the forest, where they found their horses standing under the hawthorn. And as 124 soon as Sir Degrevant came home, he busked all his men to go to the tournament. But there let us leave him and speak of what was said by the bright lady and her maid.
Early that same day, the lady laughed her woman to scorn: “Thy good name is lost — God give thee care!”
“Madam, if it be so, it hurts none but me; and I vouch me safe with that noble man, if it were so!”
At this the lady laughed aloud: “Damsel, i’ God’s name, how doth he please thee?”
“I dare boast for Sir Degrevant, that I know none so courteous, so kindly, so good! Certainly, yester even, he knighted his squire, and promised him to be my husband; and he hath pledged himself to give us four hundred pounds’ worth of land. Here is the charter — yourself may see.”
When the lady had read the charter she was glad, but she said only: “Hadst thou taken Sir Degrevant himself, then hadst thou prospered well!”
“Nay, madam, there is no lady alive whom he will wed save you alone. No emperor or king shall marry you — I out-take none — but he shall prevent him! He sends you greeting — behold — a red-gold ring set with a splendid stone.”
The lady saw that it was a royal gift: “This is a marvellous thing! Dost ween I be mad, to do such folly as to love my father’s foe, though he were ever so doughty? Nay, by the Rood! I bid thee understand well, I will 125 have no husband yet a while — and so tell him when ye meet. Nay, more I wish him no good! The Duke of Gerle has promised to sup here to-night; see that my chamber be ready, and forget nothing.”
Now is the duke come over the sea with a great following; and the noble earl hath prayed him courteously to dwell for ten days, at his cost for food, court, and wages of knight, squire, and page. And every evening one thousand and three horses belonging to the duke’s meiny were given their portions of corn and hay.
As the great duke sat at dinner, the earl readily promised him that he should have sweet maid Melidore to wife.
Now this duke was so gay and amorous that the men of the earl’s house held him for a chivalrous knight; and the earl himself told what deeds of arms he had undertaken, an dhow all his best men had been slain under the wood-boughs. “The banneret that dwells near by will assay the jousting, he who wrought me all this damage and did me this hurt.”
The duke answered in haste: “Here I plight you my word, whether he will tourney or fight, he shall have his fill! How shall I know him?”
Then said the earl: “He bears in chief39 azure figured with a satyr under a double head-dress, and true-loves here and there; and on a background of black,40 a lion tied to an 126 oak in gold and green. He wears a splendid helmet cleanly cast into the form of a gold dolphin, with true-loves in the border. He is like a lion in the field, when he is ready with his buckler, and his helmet is strongly plated, for it stands like a stack.41 He is so stiff in battle, by St. Martin of Tours, that if he could love as well, his peer could not be found! I would give all the lands I have to any knight that would undertake to being him down in the field!”
The duke laughed him to scorn, and proudly swore an oath: “Sir, he shall pay for all this to-morrow, for your sake!”
In the morning the duke busked him as fast as he might, and so did the bold and cruel earl. In the clear sunshine, five hundred knights with their banners assembled, featly armed, and their servants as well. And all the broad countryside came thither that day to see the sport. Out of the west42 Sir Degrevant brought three hundred picked knights graithed43 in green.
There was none so bold as to challenge the duke, who proudly held the field; but when they saw Sir Degrevant come up armed, riding a Barbary horse, all the other side thanked God for their chance. Banneret and bachelor drew near him to fight under his pennant in the tourney that day.
With trumpet and drum and clear-sounding shawm they rushed together, and when they met, many a bold 127 knight was thrown by the way and lay stunned and fouled under the horses’ feet. They smote mightily with their swords, and soon many of these fierce fellows in their armour had no longer any joy of life. Barons were sitting on the bent, shamefully hacked about the shoulders, and with bleeding brows; and many a man was hurt that never assented to come to that tournament to do such deeds.
Sir Degrevant pricked fast through the press, and reached the duke such a stroke that he tottered to the ground, so that presently the knight won his black steed. He was so stalwart in that battle, for love of the lady who watched from the tower, that, ere he stopped, he had won and brought to the stake44 sixty horses, as many a man saw. To tell the truth, he won that day the chief place in the jousting, having vanquished all the field; and many stared at him for his hardihood. Fair ladies said one to another, alike queen and countess, “Yonder knight in green hath earned the prize;” and they loved him well.
Presently the duke was horsed again, and pricked fast through the field; and he and the earl, with their following, went back to the castle; and a herald cried upon all the chivalry to come to the feast.
The good knight Sir Degrevant had made provision for all his men, for forty days and more, so he withdrew to a fair castle a little aside, near a fell,45 and there made merry and slew care. Three hundred and more stern knights, 128 who came out of that tournament, rode away in his company. One hundred pounds he sent, and a horse, to pay the minstrels; he was never niggardly of his gifts, in weal or in woe. To this castle he rode, and held a royal feast; and all his bold men stayed with him. At eventide, he said: “As I live, I will see the chivalry of France face to face!”
So in the evening light he armed him at all points, and called to him two knights that were ever of his counsel.
“Busk ye on your steeds in the garments of damsels, for I must try my luck to-night. Take each of you a spear for peace or for war, and make ready my horses, and look they be trapped gaily with mantelets47 and toptelers.48
Their horse were held for them, they took shield and spear and pricked fast over the plain, and rode straight westward through a fair forest, with two fine trumpets that rang out like bells.
On a hill the knight rested and donned his helmet, and without tarrying galloped to the earl’s castle — the grimmest guest between heaven and hell! He had the good hap to find the gate open wide, and so rode up to the very daïs where dinner was being served, and sought out maid Melidore, and greeted her.
As the duke started up, Degrevant said: “Here I plight thee my word, I shall deliver this bright lady to-morrow 129 between prime and undern. Look ye come then, or ye shall swoon away for sorrow before her eyes! Truly, as I live, ye shall be served with three courses of war or of jousting!”48
The knight was splendidly attired as was a joy to see; and never before had they beheld so good a horseman. Some stared at his steed, some at his rich armour, and some took note of the cause that brought him thither. He bows to them, alike high and low, and busks him to ride out of the hall; and of all that looked upon him none knew him save the fair maiden Melidore.
He rode homeward as fast as he might, and on the morrow he arrayed him as before, and found the duke in the field, with spear and buckler. And the earl watched from a distance, fierce as a boar.
Then said the duke: “Where is this giant? For all his great fare he will not keep his word!”
But when he saw Sir Degrevant riding up on his Barbary steed, his heart grew faint within him and he groaned. Being sore adread, he sent a squire to ask whether the knight would joust as in peace or in war, and he had an answer both reasonable and courteous: “It shall be as he will — chance what may!”
Then these doughty men geared them fast, set on their helmets, chose two great spears of peace, and on their strong steeds pricked fast through the throng. Their horses 130 rushed together, they jousted awhile ere they cast, and then their good spears were all splintered. Sir Degrevant, as he had intended, gave the duke such a blow that, by my hand, he lost both his stirrups! But he recovered himself, and thereby gladdened his friends, who gave him white bread, Vernage, and wine of Crete.49 He swore by God in heaven: “Would my steed but hold out, I would risk anything for sweet Melidore!”
They took two great spears that made their horses groan; and so they rode through the ranks with many an eye upon them, but that time they missed each other. But at the third course the knight Sir Anterous50 came, strong in his love, and pierced the duke’s shield, as the earl saw from afar and grew heavy of heart.
The damsel51 took the horse, and led him through the ranks saying: “Have this for my reward till thou get more.” But she added a proud word: “On this steed shall I ride with my lover.”
Again the knight geared him and took a sharp spear, a weapon of war, from his fellow’s hands,52 to slay the duke, while the lady said: “Sir duke, ye are proud; I pray you keep your word. Yonder is a knight-errant — why tarry ye here?”131
But the duke lay stunned, and still she cried upon him: “Yonder knight is all armed, and awaits you!”
He answered as courteously as he could: “I may not hide that I am hurt full ill. Pray take him no offence; he sees that I am wounded. I can scarce live, so sore is my side!”
Then Sir Degrevant gave his horse to pay the minstrels; and he and his men sped away to the forest. But the duke, who had fared so ill, took his leave that same night, and went home with all his barons.
On the morrow, Sir Degrevant came again to the thorn where before he had left his steed; and there all that day he waited. At night he and his friend went secretly to try if he might get speech with sweet Melidore.
The damsel knew by a token that they were come in, and her lady perceived her thought: “Damsel, as I live, thou hast got thee for guests again the wild men of the west — hide it not! Bring that knight here unseen to talk with me in secret. By my word, he hath bought it dear!”
Then the maiden was glad, and did her command, and led him up the steps to her chamber. At the door stood the noble lady herself, and there fell at his feet; but quick as fire struck from flint, he had caught here in his arms, and kissed her thirty times ere he paused.
“Welcome, Sir Anterous, methinks thou art a wonder! Wist the lord of this house, he would greet thee in all wrath!”132
Presently were fetched chairs with velvet cushions, where these fair lovers might sit and kiss.
“Damsel, look there be a fire in the chimney of fir-faggots gathered long since.”
The damsel set a board of ivory on trestles, and covered it with such cloths as never were seen before: Aylsham towels53 as white as sea-foam, and surnapes54 of the same. There was a golden salt-cellar, and basin, and ewer full of clear rose-water for their washing.
Secretly she brought white bread from the pantry, and served them as they sat. And she fetched from the kitchen a shield of wild boar, and haslets55 in galantine, by my hand! And they had plovers in pastry, fresh fat conies, pheasants and curlews, and all sorts of meats; and she drew for them wine of Crete and Vernage. It were hard to tell all the dainty dishes and spices that were served at that meal; and still the maiden drew wine for him, Rochelle and Rhenish and Malmsey,56 and filled his cup. And ever between, Melidore sat harping sweet notes, and sang merry songs; and in that chamber of love they made such mirth that they slew care.
The roof of the room57 was royally adorned with bright bezants,58 and the wall was inlaid with white whalebone,59 133 azure, and many a precious gem. There might be seen archangels in red gold,60 fifty together all laughing full lightly; the Apocalypse of John, Paul’s Epistles, and the Parables of Solomon were there painted. And the four Gospelles61 sat on pillars, where listening to them were four doctors, Austin62 and Gregory, Jerome and Ambrose. All the philosophers were portrayed in stone, and likewise the story was there of unhappy Absalom. And there was a clock on high to ring out with bells the hours of the night and waken sweet Melidore. There were square glass63 windows the richest ever made, with little horns60 of hand-worked brass. All the walls were of agate,60 with high vaultings whereon were portrayed kings of far-away lands on their thrones: Charles the Great with his crown, Godfrey de Bouillon60 and King Arthur of Britain, all with their bright swords. The floor was tiled with clear crystal, with a carpet of fine pall where the lady stood.
Her bed was of azure, with a tester and canopy bordered with the story of Amadas and Ydoyne,60 with precious stones everywhere in a design of green popinjays.60 And there were, too, the scutcheons of many a knight, in gold and cypress, with bright bezants and true-loves here and there. No queen or empress had a more splendid bed, and from her tester hung the king’s own banner. There were sheets of pure white silk, and quilts of the same, and tasselled bags60 with crystal knobs made in Westphalia60 by 134 skilled women. It was marvellous to see the curtains hanging from many a ring of red gold; and the cords that they ran on had been won by Duke Betys and spun by Melidore out of mermaidens’ hair.64
About midnight Sir Degrevant asked: “When wilt thou listen to me, sweet lady? My heart breaks with love! When wilt thou set it at rest? Lady, if it be thy will, be kind to me!”
But she answered quickly: “No more of that, else shalt thou rue it bitterly! Though thou be a knight, thou shalt get no love from me ere thou wed me with a ring. Believe me, the first time I met thee, my heart was so stirred that I thought never to have husband or lover save thee alone, kaiser or knight, king or conqueror, or lord of renown — not even the emperor himself. Therefore, sir, have patience till thou win my father’s assent.”
To that he agreed, and they plighted their troth, as glad and light-hearted as falcons on the wing. And there they rested together that night; but, know well, it was without sin. The lady said to him: “Sweet sir, come every day, and see how we fare.” So it was likewise with Melidore’s damsel and her brave bachelor; and this went on three-quarters of that year and more.
On midsummer night, the moon shone wondrous clear when Sir Degrevant and his knight busked them to go. As they dismounted by a tree, a forester saw them lingering 135 in the glade, and followed them all the way through the wood until they had passed the stream. Likewise, the watchman on the wall, who was the earl’s own minstrel, saw them turn towards the court, and wist never what it meant. The piper held his peace, and said nought to any man — minstrels should aye be courteous and excuse what they may! But the forester anon told the earl and his knights how these men came armed as he had seen.
Now the steward was a stalwart man, Sir Eymere the Kayous;65 and with other fierce, bold officers of the house, he made a great bushment even where the forester had met Sir Degrevant, and thought to stop the green ways for him. The steward sware mightily: “An he come by this thorn, we shall take his head to-morrow, nor ask other reward!”
Dame Melidore wist not at all the intent of this folk, for she weened that no man knew of their meetings. And Sir Degrevant had promised on his honour to speak with her that night, and to stop for no fear.
At eventide he and his fellow armed them, and for fear of being discovered, put on green gowns. They had neither shield nor spear, nor any weapon of war save two keen Florentine swords.136
When they reached the ravine, an ambush of armed men on horses rushed out upon them. Sire Degrevant swiftly drew his sword, and he that came on first was soon slain in that shaw.66
When they all rushed together, seven spears set upon him and splintered a-two against his bacinet; but some bore through his gown, and some split against his habergeon, while the second knight was overborne and his sword cast away form him. But Sir Degrevant at once dismounted and saved him, crying: “Why liest thou thus?”
The best steeds they had he sliced through the shoulders; but never before, in weal or woe, had he been so hard bestead. The steward, Sir Eymere, came a little too close, and his head was carved away at the collar. The body sat still upon the horse, an uncomely sight, as the steed leaped over a ditch and ran away. I know never how it went, but he eat them fast to the earth with such play of his two-handed sword that sixty were stretched on the earth with shield and spear, that might never wield weapon after that day. The earl’s panter, his butler, and his chief squire lay dead together in that gay wood; and the remnant fled from the doom they foresaw, but some lurked hidden under trees in the sloughs. Thanks be to God’s grace, he hath vanquished his foes by his chivalry, and makes a bold chase and keen after those that are left. Not forty feet from the castle, he slays the marshal of the hall and more than fifteen good squires.137
By the time he had ended his sword-play, it was dawn, and but few had escaped, while many were slain.
Then said Sir Degrevant: “Here I promise thee that I will speak openly with Melidore tonight.”
They left their steed where they stood, passed the stream and went straight to the castle gates.
The sweet lady gave them, fair welcome, for she had not heard of the fight; whereof they were fain. But she was greatly a-wondered why their clothes were all torn as if they had been pierced by spear-thrusts in the woods; and indeed their gay green gowns were shameful to look upon.
“Dear sir, where have ye been so to tear your clothes?”
The knight sat down quietly and said to her aside: “It was no ferly thing that hurt us; but only that we tore our gowns on a thorn as we came by. We shall have new to-morrow; and we count this mishap not worth a pear.”
He had fought like a wild boar and was greatly athirst, so the maid brought quickly wine and spices. They ate together divers sweetmeats and often kissed, and were served with Vernage and Cretan and Rhenish wine. At daybreak he took his leave of maid Melidore, who as yet wist naught of the fray; that she was to hear after.
Sir Degrevant returned where lay the dead men, and said softly in his mirth, “Yonder was a stout hind!”
They brought home on biers, Sir Eymere the steward and other good henchmen who had had enough of that frith; and thereupon there was a great outcry among all the folk in the castle, and Melidore went into the hall to ask tidings.138
Says the earl to her: “Sir Degrevant and thee I blame for the loss of all my men! That is thy treason! By Him that perished on the Cross, thou shalt die to-day! I wot well he hath dishonoured thee!”
The maid answers: “Peter! I am glad he is not slain! Wherefore should I lie? Since first I chose him for my mate, I will never forsake hm, whatever dole or death I must endure!”
Then the earl waxed mad and swore by bones and blood, “I will never taste meat or drink ere I see thee die!”
The countess kneeled before him with shrill lament: “God forbid, sir, that she be slain, when we had never child but this! Alas, ye have been foes too long! Wicked tongues are the cause of it — God give them shame! I dare say this brave knight was going his ways when our men, through no fault of his, beset him. Were not his foresters killed while he was fighting in Spain, and his woods and warrens destroyed? I counsel that ye make peace with him and give him Melidore in marriage.”
Then said the maiden: “There was only himself and one other; I spoke with him to-night — why should I not tell? He is my lover and my lord, my hope and my comfort; and it is good that ye make peace! If ye continue to torment us, I will never touch food again!”
The earl sweated for rage, but sighed at last: “Damsel, rather than that thou die, I forgive thee thy guilt. Have it thine own way — I can say no more.”
Belive at the earl’s command, she sent a letter by messenger, with full new tidings. She bade Sir Degrevant come in secret with his best chivalry, as he was a good knight and doughty and leal, and she should make such accord between him and her father as should be of comfort to all that knew him ever. He was somewhat adread, but busked sixty knights, and at daybreak hastened to the earl’s castle.
There the earl met him outside with stern and stalwart knights, and louted wonder low as he hailed him, saying: “Sir, by God’s grace, we have been foes too long, and now will I be thy friend!”
Then they talked aside, so that no man knew, until all wrongs were redressed; and after, they kissed and went into the chamber. Not to rehearse at greater length, peace was made, and the earl granted the knight young Melidore until his life’s end.
Never in France, nor yet in England before, was there such purveyance as at this wedding. Thither came an emperor and a king, and more than fifteen archbishops. The Mayor of the Hospital67 came over with a cardinal, and the great King of Portyngale with bold knights. All the lords and ladies, alike empress and queen, of the land, were at that ceremony.
On Trinity, as the romance says, he took her according 140 to the law of God, unto his life’s end. With all solemnity, a cardinal, invested with a pontifical ring, chanted the royal mass, and wedded that lady. And the emperor gave her away at the kirk door with as much pomp and dignity as if she had been of his kin. And along the ground where they had passed, glittered a thousand pounds’ worth of gold.
Then assembled in the hall, the king and cardinal, the royal emperor, and bold barons and gay ladies, alike countess and queen — a joy to behold! When the feast was served, wine ran in the conduit ready for each man who would take thereof; and nine douzepers68 of France took part in the dance. Methought such an array a fair thing to see!
I know never a man who could describe the meats served in the hall; and minstrels had great gifts of splendid robes and garments. For each of fourteen days, there was a jousting of serried knights, and revelling with wine and ale; and on the fifteenth day that noble company took leave and went home. All praised, both knights and ladies, the courteous bearing of Sir Degrevant, who at that time gave away horses worth a thousand pounds, and also hawks and hounds and falcons.
That same year the earl died, and also his fair countess, and both had goodly burial. And when Sir Degrevant fell heir to their broad lands, he might overmatch any peer in the country. Thirty winters and more he and his 141 lady lived together in bliss, and had seven children. When she died he turned over the estate to his heir, and went to the Holy Land — may heaven be his meed! He was slain at Port Jaffa, jousting with a sultan; and thus this man of doughty deeds hath gone to his God.
1Or gesters, professional tellers of tales.
2 See note.
3 See note.
4 A sort of guitar.
5 A small harp.
6 See note.
7 Dappled grey or white.
9 See note.
10 See note.
11 Grass lands.
12 Grassy plain; sometimes grass.
13 Three P.M.
16 See note.
17 Enclosed wood or field.
18 See note.
20 Helmets; i.e., with his sword.
22 See note.
23 Given what he deserves.
24 True-love knots.
25 Knights banneret. See note.
27 See note.
28 See note.
29 Nine A.M., also nine to twelve.
30 See note.
31 Fine cloth, originally always, as here, purple.
32 Ornament for the forehead.
33 See note.
34 Scotch still: doomed, from O. E. fæge.
35 At once.
36 See note.
37 The squire.
38 See note.
39 The upper third of a shield.
40 See note.
41 Perhaps rock. See note.
42 See note.
44 Barrier in the lists?
45 Hill: North Country word.
46 Here, perhaps, saddle-cloths, or foot-cloths.
47 Forehead ornaments? See note.
48 See note.
49 See list of wines in The Squire of Low Degree, with note on p. 194 below.
50 Evidently Degrevant. See note.
51 Melidore’s maid?
52 His former squire’s?
53 See note.
54 Cloths to lay over the tablecloth for the washing of hands.
55 Pig’s fry.
56 See note on p. 194.
57 See note.
58 Unstamped gold pieces like the coin.
60 See note.
63 Still uncommon at this time.
64 See note.
65 See note.
67 The head of the order of Knights Hospitallers, of which there were many foundations.
68 The twelve knights of Charlemagne.
This romance (1904 lines) is found in the famous Thornton MS., dated about the middle of the fifteenth century, and in one other of about the same date. It was edited first by Halliwell, with three others, under the title The Thornton Romances, for the Camden Society, 1844, and was reprinted by F. S. Ellis, Kelmscott Press, 1896. No French original is known.
p. 106. Nephew to the King. He is certainly Agravaine, son of King Lot of Orkney and Arthur’s sister Bellicent. An alternative spelling, fairly common, is Egrevain. Assuming that this name once formed part of the title of a French poem such as Lai or Roman d’Egrevaint, we can see how the d’ might have come to be regarded as a part of the name, especially as the de was not invariably kept in the title. For example, we find Lai le Freine. The same process doubtless accounts for the similar name Degarre = d’Egaré (Lai d’Egaré?), the pronunciation of which is shown by the later spelling Degree.
The only other mention I have found of an Arthurian knight called Degrevant, is in one of the MSS. of John Harding’s Chronicle, xlviii. ff. (cf. Introduction, p. xlviii. ff.). The story itself has nothing or very little to do with King Arthur, but has been attached to his name to keep in in the fashion.
p. 107. Mappa Mundi. Cf. Chaucer’s: “As fer as cercled is the mappemounde.” See Introduction, loc. cit.
p. 107. True as the anchor in a stone, i.e., as true to himself as the anchor to its nature when it drops among the stones?188
p. 108. Granada. So Chaucer’s knight: “In Gernade at the seege eek hadde he be.”
p. 109. Sir Sere of Cypirs. This name occurs in one MS. only, and suggests a French original; but the phrase is obviously corrupt. The place is perhaps Cyprus. The name Sir Sasere is found on the Winchester Round Table.
p. 111. Heathery hills. text: hethene, which can scarcely mean anything but heath-en.
p. 112. With their kinsfolk. Text: Kene kyneghus in-with kyth. A possible allusion to the clan?
p. 113. Barbary horse. Text: Steed ferraunt. Common in the romances.
p. 115. Knight-banneret. Landowners, who therefore were qualified to have a banner and to summon vassals to the field, in distinction from knights-bachelor, who were landless.
p. 116. Melidore’s. The name is French; cf. Froissart’s Méliador.
p. 116. Rhine-gold. A clear allusion to the Nibelungenlied, or some other form of the same tradition, in which the accursed hoard of gold is at last sunk in the Rhine. This is the only reference that I remember in English literature of that time.
p. 117. Castle nor town. Text: broch nor by — a peculiarly Northern phrase. Broch is now applied especially to ruins attributed to the so-called “Picts,” and by is the generic name, of Scandinavian origin, for town, surviving only in compounds such as Kirkby Stephen, i.e., he town of the church of Stephen.
p. 118. Violet. According to the Thornton MS., she was dressed all in violet pall, according to the Lincoln, in purple velvet. The description of her costume is so confused that I have pieced the two MSS. together to make a connected account.189
p. 120. Pink. Text: periwinkle, In flower-lore, the periwinkle was supposed to inspire love; hence, perhaps the phrase.
p. 122. Duke of Gerle. Gueldres? But he is a Frenchman.
p. 123. Moat. Text: water-wall, It cannot be a waterfall, as Halliwell translates, because the context explains clearly that it was filled and emptied by the tide: therefore it is probably a moat.
p. 125. Background of black. I guess at the meaning. The Thornton MS. says: “Hys bagges this blake;” the Lincoln MS.: “Bot his bagges are blake.” In both cases, the spelling blake looks more like the Norse word meaning pale; but that does not help the sense. Bagges are sometimes bagpipes; but here the question is of a shield.
p. 126. Stack. A Norse word meaning anything fixed firmly, as a hay-stack. In Shetland the word survives with the meaning, an isolated rock at sea. The modern “firm as a rock” suggests that this is the usage here.
p. 126. Out ot the west. The phrase is not uncommon; but here, as the scene is in the North Country, may well allude to the south-western part of Scotland, whnce came so many raiders. Cf. the “wild men of the west,” p. 131.
p. 128. Toptelers. The French toupet, topet means the tuft of hair on a horse’s forehead; hence, there may have been a derivative (not in Godefroy’s dictionary, however), from which came topteler (topetelier?), in the sense, ornament for the topet.
p. 129. Of war or of jousting, i.e., with or without iron heads, according to the intent of the knights, whether they engage through hostility or in a mere trial of strength.
p. 130. Sir Anterous. Evidently Degrevant in disguise; but 190 the text is confused. Later, Melidore calls him by that name, which is suitable enough, as it means adventurous.
p. 132. Aylsham towels. Linen manufacture at Aylsham, Norfolk, began in the reign of Edward III.
p. 132. The room, &c This very detailed description of a room, with its many French words, suggests a French original, and the French romances were much given to this sort of elaboration.
p. 133. Archangels in red-gold. Probably carved corbels.
p. 133. Clock. Text: orrelegge (Fr. horologe), first quoted from 1381, in N. E. D. This allusion at least seems due to the English minstrel.
p. 133. Little horns. Text: moynels = O. Fr. moienels, I don’t know what it means here unless it refers to tracery.
p. 133. Agate. Text: geete = jet. The extensive use of jet for walls is improbable. The minstrel has possibly confused achate, agathe = agate, with gagate = jet.
p. 133. Godfrey de Bouillon. An historical hero of the First Crusade, and the legendary hero to whom was attached the cycle of the Swan-children, of which Lohengrin is a familiar version.
p. 133. Amadas and Ydoyne. Famous lovers in the Middle Ages, concerning whom a thirteenth-century French romance still survives. They were often alluded to in Middle English, but there is no trace of an English romance on that theme. Sir Amadas in volume ii. is a different story. These lovers made one of four groups embroidered on the famous cloth that became the wedding-dress in the romance of Emaré.
p. 133. Popinjays. This design seems to have been fashionable, as it is mentioned several times also in The Squire of Low Degree.
p. 133. Tasselled bags. One or two large bags usually appear, 191 in medieval pictures of beds, hanging inside the curtains, and made of the same stuff. Their use I do not know, unless it would be to hold articles of apparel, which always in such pictures seem to be put away.
p. 133. Westphalia. This, with the preceding allusion to the Rhine-gold, hints at an acquaintance with Germany not common in the works of that time.
p. 134. Mermaidens’ hair. Halliwell adopts the reading that Melidore and her “merry maidens” had spun the cords won by Duke Betys; but in that case, we are not told of what they were made, or why he should trouble to win them. The comparison of hair to “gold wires” is common in the romances; and here it seems probably that we have allusion to some lost story in which a knight brings home mermaids’ hair, which was of the actual stuff of gold.
p. 135. Sir Eymour (later, Eymere) the Kayous. The nemeis either Emere (pronounces Emère) or Aylmer. Kay is still dialectical for left (hand or foot), so Kayous would seem to mean left-handed.